Manchester United 4 Wigan Athletic 0: Wonder boy's genius captures cup Ferguson has come to covet

Sam Wallace
Monday 27 February 2006 01:00

The Glazers, Ferguson said, were "soaked with a bit of champagne" when they came into the United dressing-room, a gesture more welcoming than the United fans' banner before the match that read "Glazers: forever in your debt". For the champagne culprit, Rooney would seem a good bet - he scored twice in a masterful display and regarded the presentation of the trophy with a barely containable awe.

But to see Ferguson dance on the pitch in the aftermath was to know that, in these lean times, the United manager really meant it when he later said "a trophy is a trophy".

There was one man among the playing staff of United who seemed to find it hard to join in the celebrations. Ruud van Nistelrooy has 22 goals this season, and four in the last six matches, but that was not enough to earn the Dutch striker a place in the starting line-up. He had been ineffective in the FA Cup fifth round defeat to Liverpool last week, but his exclusion was an enormous decision by Ferguson that may yet see the beginning of the end at Old Trafford for the prolific goalscorer he signed almost four years ago.

In response, Ferguson said that he could not leave out Louis Saha who, after his goal yesterday now has six in the competition, on the basis that continuing to overlook the Frenchman would "create problems". Studying the demeanour of Van Nistelrooy it would seem that he is now Ferguson's latest problem.

The United manager said he called on his own experience as a player when making the decision to keep Saha in the side, invoking the memory of the 1965 Scottish Cup final when he was Dunfermline's leading goalscorer but was dropped for the match against Celtic. Denied the chance to play at Hampden Park, the 25-year-old Ferguson simply walked out the stadium - Van Nistelrooy, also United's top scorer, waited around long enough to get his medal.

It is the curse of the manager, Ferguson has long said, that he cannot enjoy a final until he knows victory is secure - the last-minute 1999 European Cup triumph a case in point - but yesterday must have felt different. From the moment that Rooney forced his way down the left and crossed for Saha in the seventh minute it became clear that the 20-year-old had decided to claim this day as his own. For Ferguson's opposite number Paul Jewell, however, the problems were only just beginning.

This was, the Liverpudlian needed no reminding, his fourth match against United as manager, previously of Bradford and now Wigan, and his fourth 4-0 defeat. His first-choice goalkeeper did, however, keep a clean sheet, although the sadness for Mike Pollitt was that at 32, and playing in his first major final, his hamstring gave way in the first five minutes and he had to be replaced soon after. Released by United as a trainee, he has played his career in the lower divisions and headed straight down the tunnel after his substitution.

Soon after that, the demolition began. From Gary Neville's cross on seven minutes, Rooney's header hitthe bar and he surged down the right on 19 minutes to cross for Cristiano Ronaldo but the winger mistimed his shot. Bulldozing his way through the centre of the Wigan defence on 32 minutes, Rooney approached a three-way collision with Arjen De Zeeuw and Pascal Chimbonda - Wigan's Dutch defender succeeded only in striking the ball against his team-mate, and the United striker stroked his shot past John Filan.

The save that Jewell and Ferguson identified as crucial came in the 51st minute when Henri Camara broke away from Rio Ferdinand but had his shot well stopped by Edwin van der Sar. By the hour mark, United had scored twice more. The first of the two was beautifully orchestrated in midfield by Ryan Giggs, who stepped round two tackles before picking out Ronaldo on the right. He crossed low for Louis Saha and, although Filan stopped the first shot, the ball rebounded in off the striker.

Stéphane Henchoz took responsibility for the third, picking out a pass to Saha, who pushed the ball out right to Ronaldo and the winger angled his shot into the far corner. Between those two goals, Roberts had an untidy header that Van der Sar scrambled over the bar.

Victory was sealed two minutes after the hour - the third in six minutes - when Rooney tucked the ball in after Ferdinand had headed a corner to him.

For Wigan it was a traumatic way to have their big day curtailed. Their outstanding performer was Gary Teale, a winger who fought on against the gloom and struck a low ball across United's goal that no one could reach on 77 minutes. By then Ronaldo had already jogged across the pitch juggling the ball during play, risking savage tackles from Roberts and Camara.

On the end of the League Cup final's biggest-ever defeat, Wigan looked, for the first time, uncomfortable among English football's élite. Jewell talked about the importance of not letting the season "peter out", especially now that sixth place in the Premiership is almost certain to bring with it a Uefa Cup place. The Wigan manager joked that losing to United was no disgrace even if they were now "only the second richest club in the world". It is a fact that will not have gone unnoticed by the Glazers, or the £20m striker that they now have sitting on the substitutes' bench.

Goals: Rooney (32) 1-0; Saha (56) 2-0; Ronaldo (58) 3-0; Rooney (62) 4-0.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Neville, Ferdinand, Brown (Vidic, 83), Silvestre (Evra, 83); Ronaldo (Richardson, 74), Giggs, O'Shea, Park; Rooney, Saha.

Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Van Nistelrooy.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Pollitt (Filan, 14); Chimbonda, Henchoz, De Zeeuw, Baines; Teale, Scharner, Kavanagh (Ziegler, 69), Bullard; Roberts, Camara. Substitutes not used: Jackson, Johansson, McCulloch.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire)

Booked: Manchester United Ronaldo.

Man of the match: Rooney.

Attendance: 66,866.

Jewell v Man Utd: Four 4-0s

Paul Jewell has met United four times as a manager:

* 26 Dec 99

Man Utd 4 (Fortune 75, Yorke 79, Cole 87, Keane 88) Bradford 0

* 25 March 2000

Bradford 0 Man Utd 4 (Yorke 37, 40, Scholes 71, Beckham 79)

* 14 Dec 05

Man Utd 4 (Ferdinand 30, Rooney 35, 55, Van Nistelrooy pen 70) Wigan 0

* 26 Feb 06

Man Utd 4 (Rooney 33, 61, Saha 55, Ronaldo 59) Wigan 0

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